Fighting Yellow Jack in Cuba

Have you ever heard of yellow fever? If you haven’t, give some of the credit to Dr. William Crawford Gorgas. In the early 20th century, following up on the work of Drs. Carlos Finlay and Walter Reed and others, he employed numerous sanitation techniques to dramatically cut down on the incidence of yellow fever in first Cuba, then the Panama Canal zone.

Gorgas became especially interested in the disease, which was also known as “yellow jack,” while he was serving in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. As someone who had contracted yellow fever and survived it — enduring the fever, chills, nausea, pain, and jaundice it could bring — his natural immunity meant he was often called on to take care of yellow fever patients during later outbreaks. When the U.S. went to war with the Spanish in Cuba, yellow fever became a major concern and focus of Army medical research, which brought Gorgas front and center.

The massive W. C. Gorgas collection contains a lot of information about Gorgas’s work in the Panama Canal zone, which he’s best known for, but it also details his learning experiences in Cuba, including his interactions with Reed and Finlay. Here are some examples and highlights.

Carlos Finlay

We take for granted that many diseases are caused by bacteria and viruses — that is, germs. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this was still a new concept. How those germs were transmitted was even less understood.

In 1881, Carlos Finlay, a Cuban doctor, began arguing that yellow fever was transmitted by mosquitoes.

yellow fever report by Gorgas

It wasn’t easy believing this hypothesis, even for medical professionals. In a 1902 report to the Philadelphia Medical Journal, Gorgas details various experiments made in Cuba that helped prove the hypothesis true, as well as his evolving attitudes based in part on observations of his own medical practice.

Finlay’s mosquito hypothesis had first come to the attention of the U.S. government at the outset of the Spanish-American War (1898), when thousands of U.S. troops would be traveling to Cuba.

yellow fever report by Finlay, 1898

You can read Gorgas’s letters and diary entries from that year here.

Gorgas worked with Finlay in Cuba from 1898 to 1902. After he moved on, he kept well abreast of Finlay’s continued work there, as evidenced in a letter of May 11, 1906. An excerpt:

We plume ourselves upon the way in which our people [the U.S. Army] handled yellow fever in New Orleans last year, and it was very creditably done, but in Havana you limited the disease to much narrower lines and confined it to a much smaller population without any assistance from cold weather or frosts. But what I think is the greatest feather in the cap of the Cuban Sanitary Department is the practical extinction of malarial fever in Havana.

At the time he wrote that letter, Gorgas was already at the Panama Canal site, where both yellow fever and malaria (also transmitted by mosquitoes) had once run rampant. The toll taken by those diseases were part of why the French had had to abandon the project. Gorgas’s work, based in part on Finlay’s hypothesis, brought about a reduction in yellow fever and malaria deaths in Panama, which allowed the canal to finally be completed in 1914.

For more correspondence between Finlay and Gorgas, follow this link.

Walter Reed

Dr. Walter Reed has been sent to Cuba in 1898 to investigate the typhoid fever epidemic among servicemen during the Spanish-American war, but he soon took up the equally distressing problem of yellow fever. At first, they thought the disease was transmitted in much the same way typhoid was, through water contaminated by insects.

Combating yellow fever wasn’t a straightforward thing, even after doctors and scientists concluded that it was transmitted by mosquitoes directly. Many experiments were undertaken in Cuba, including some brave but (to modern sensibilities) ethically questionable trials on human subjects.

In a letter to Reed in late summer 1901, written when Gorgas was in Havana, he talks about such an experiment. Mosquitoes were allowed to bite an infected man, then those mosquitoes bit seven healthy people. Of the six who came down with yellow fever, half died. Gorgas found the lack of progress frustrating and the loss of life hard to accept:

I am very much disappointed. I had hoped, that through the mosquito, we had a means of giving mild cases which would protect; but these cases show that the severest form of yellow fever can be transmitted by one or two mosquito bites.

I suppose I ought to be thankful for the immense good that the discovery so far has done, and for the great success that our work, this year, has had; but the death of these patients just now, makes all success taste of gall and wormwood, and casts a gloom over the Sanitary Department.

You can read Reed’s reply in Acumen.

Reed and Gorgas spent a lot of time discussing how to rid Cuba of the mosquito menace. In April 1901, Gorgas describes his methods for getting rid of the insects – by draining away the standing water they liked to breed in. In June 1901, Reed urges him not to depend solely on killing mosquitoes but also to work on protecting people from being bitten.

In May 1901, Reed writes to Gorgas to argue that a single bite could give someone yellow fever; it did not take multiple bites, as Finlay and others argued. It wasn’t the only time Reed disagreed with Finlay’s ideas or his seemingly more primitive methods, and in fact there is still some amount of controversy today about where the credit lies for solving the yellow fever problem. However, it is clear that both Gorgas and Reed owed much to Finlay’s early findings and continued work as a sanitary officer.

Reed, despite his forceful personality, seems to have had a good sense of humor, and to have developed professional respect and genuine affection for both Gorgas and Finlay. Right up until his death in November 1902, Reed continued to correspond with Gorgas, inquiring about the state of yellow fever in Havana and working out new and better ways to tackle the epidemic.

For more correspondence between Reed and Gorgas, follow this link.

Great Spirits, Restless Souls

In September 1915, a couple of weeks after Finlay’s passing, Gorgas gave a eulogy for him at a meeting of the American Public Health Association. In summing up his character, Gorgas said:

He was a most genial, kindly, modest man, but strong and determined when he thought any matter of principle was involved.

Gorgas imagines Finlay and Reed, two “great spirits,” meeting in the afterlife, but he says he will not tell them to rest in peace:

I know such souls do not desire to rest in peace but are continuing development along the altruistic lines which they so preeminently adorned in this life.

In 1914, Gorgas was appointed Surgeon General of the U.S. Army. Before he died in 1920, he was even given an honorary knighthood by King George V of the United Kingdom. His methods didn’t just improve the Panama Canal zone; they were a model used by other healthcare workers all over the world. His personal and professional relationships with Carlos Finlay and Walter Reed and their experiences fighting yellow jack in Cuba were instrumental in making these methods a reality.

Interested in more about Gorgas’s connection to the Panama Canal?

  • If you’re searching online, you can find more letters and reports in Acumen.
  • If you’re here on campus, why not visit the Gorgas House Museum, where there is now an exhibit on his time in the Panama Canal zone. Admission is free for students, faculty, and staff, and just $2 for visitors.

Everyday mysteries of the archives

Part of the fun of looking through archival material is solving mysteries. When we don’t know much about the provenance of the collection –when there’s only the material itself to go on –that mystery is even more challenging, but potentially more fun.

What we know about Archibald McLauchlin: he was from North Carolina, he settled in Wilcox County, Alabama, and he wrote at least two diaries. One ran January 1854 to March 1856; the other picks up where the previous left off, continues through the middle of 1857, and then makes a leap to January 1870.


Based on the entries themselves, we learn that McLauchlin was educated at a university, had in fact been in school a couple of semesters already when he began writing. From that first diary, we get sense of what day-to-day life was like at an American university in the middle of the 19th century.

Feb. 10, 1854 – Calculus and Demonsthenes


Feb. 26, 1854 – A sermon at chapel (on Ephesians 5:14)


March 22, 1855 – History, Rhetoric, French…and snow!


Feb. 2, 1856 – Studies interrupted by friends on a slushy day


March 6, 1856 – Recovering from an illness (begun Feb. 27)



We also know that in 1870, he started recording his first six months as a full-time farmer. The second diary gives us a glimpse of the life of a planter in post-Civil War Alabama.

Jan. 1, 1870 – “First efforts at farming for a living”


April 12, 1870 – Planting corn and cotton



But what did he do in the dozen or so years in between?

Luckily for us history detectives, the collection also contains several letters to and from friends and family, some of them written by Archie himself. This letter to his sister in 1861 provides some clues. From page one:

I am now at home, have been here nearly two weeks, our Regt was disbanded owing to the thinning of our ranks by the conscript. I did not stay quite a month. Spent about twenty dollars got no joy, and don’t know whether I will or not. When I came home it was time my crop had been worked over, but it was not, the man that I expected to work it the first time was about to get our of it by saying, he could not, do it for he was not done planting himself. The war is making people very selfish here, every one is looking after their own interest…

Of course, this letter muddies the waters as much as it clears things up. Why was his regiment disbanded? What was he doing during the war if not fighting?

Check out the rest of the collection to do some further sleuthing. Maybe you can find out he thought about transitioning from university life, with its Greek orators and calculus, to life as a cotton farmer.

A Day in the Life: August 25

Archives give us a chance to look at the world in a lot of different ways, through lenses big and small. Today, we take a cross section of life on this date, August 25, across the decades. From 1840 to 1945, people were still people, and not that different from you and I, whether dealing with everyday concerns or faced with especially trying times.

Their punctuation and spelling could be just as atrocious as ours, and their typing could definitely have used the autocorrect technology we rely on. Their handwriting, however, can be pretty different from ours. That’s reason enough to take a peek at the excerpts below. Are you from a generation that can still read cursive? (I am.) Some of these were a real challenge…


Peter Hamilton in Mobile, Ala., to Anna Beers in Pleasant Hill, Ala.:


Your last letter concluded with “many wishes for my continued health and happiness” — now I will tell you how these wishes may be fully gratified — only continue to write such letters and frequently & I think I can answer pretty confidently both for my health and happiness.


General H. D. Clayton near Chattanooga, Tenn., probably with Braxton Bragg’s forces, to his wife:


The condition of the Reg is improving daily – the sick are [returning?]. We already have the largest Regiment in the Brigade. Much anxiety is being felt as to our future movement not only in the [country/county?] but here in the army also. We expect a big fight before going a great distance from here.


Charles Manly in Greenville, N.C., to his parents (letter with a copy of the war poem “Not Doubtful of Your Fatherland,” by William Gilmore Simms):


I am now pretty certain t[hat] Charleston will fall. People[?] it in earnest – & where I will go to is hard to say – mighty little now here.


Augusta Evans Wilson in Birmingham, Ala., to Rachel Heustis, about her “hay-fever” and subsequent “grassphobia”:

…my suffering in New York


was caused entirely by a visit to the “Metropolitan Museum of Art” in Central Park, where the lawn grass had been mown the day previous, and raked into small piles. Whiles I should enjoy being with you, and would doubtless find the Hotel much cooler than the city, I dread a renewal of my great suffering…


W. D. Campbell in Geneva, Ala., to Judge H. D. Clayton:


I was a candidate in the late Election for the office of Sheriff and was beaten by Sectional Strife the small majority of 72 votes in the county — the Elect has failed to make bond in the time prescribed by law and the office is declassed vacant to the appointing power – and I was the next fastest in the Election and urged by my friends to make application for the appointment I respectfully ask your Honor to recomend me to the appointing power.


Hannah Irwin in Wheeling, W. Va., to Joe Woodward:


Jen B. and I expect to leave for the World’s Fair the first week in September, and from there I expect to go to West [Plaines] to see Bird.


A. H. Woodward in Alabama to his mother:



Hannah Irwin in Beverly, Ohio, to Mattie in Beaumaris, Ontario, Canada:


Alfred has been here twice – he leaves next week – I do wish he could be induced to do something besides smoking and reading fiction. He tried to enter Princeton again but owing to his record there – being conditioned in three studies he could not be admitted unless he worked [them?] off. He ought to be employed.


Andrew Dawson in England, with the American Expeditionary Forces, to his mother in Tuscaloosa, Ala.:


There is certainly something wrong. But we do not have anything more to eat for a week. Why? Because we had some “sho nuff” steak for dinner in addition to the blackberry cobler. Now that is too much for one day. Goodness alive, you should see how we did clean up with that dinner.


Aunt Delle Metcalf to Rick in Wheeling, W. Va.:


I presume you will think I had forgotten all about the coat I wrote you about to tell the truth it has been so beastly hot and our attic like a fiery Furnace for several weeks I simply could not go up to get it out of the Trunk but a change in the atmosphere a few days ago made it bearable up there so I fished it out aired it a day in the hot sun and today I have done it up ready to take to Post Office to be mailed to you.


William Williams at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute to A. H. Woodward, asking advice about continuing in school:


I have plenty courage and faith. For the seven years I have been here I have put all I have into my work. It is not any work I have done that I am ashame of. I can lay brick, plaster, upholster furniture, top cars, landscape grow flowers and play music, and I am second year college. I believe I can make it up if I wont be able to get any more. I feel that I can hold any job I be skillful. I hope you will give me some advice as to what to do.


Lou Peterson to Dick Young:


I hardly know what to say or how to start to thank you for your thoughtfulness and kindness during my illness. Well here goes: your letter arrived first and believe me Dick it was good, and really I had to smile, even though I was in pain. I’m glad you tore up that morbid one I much prefer the humorous one because I also was [morbid?]. Then the beautiful care from you, have me a good feeling too. The verse was well. But when those beautiful flowers arrive in the afternoon, I was spell bound and such a gorgeous bouquet Dick.


Bill Berman serving at Fort Riley, Kan., to “folks” in St. Louis, Mo.:



J. C. Faulkner serving in San Francisco, Cal., to his wife Bonnie in Tuscaloosa, Ala., a few days after VJ (Victory over Japan) Day:


The water still wasn’t on when we come in so we took a B. B. (Bucket Bath). There was a leak in one of the big tanks and was possible to catch water in a bucket by holding your hands against the tank so that the water would fall into the bucket. Cain and I took turns, he carried the water for me while I bathed and then I carried water for him. you know the fellows didn’t grip and beef as usual. about all they said was, “Well we won’t have to do this much longer.” It is going to be wonderful to get back the things that we once thought were the necessitys of life.

For more items from this date, type this into the Acumen search bar: title:(august AND 25). You can also substitute any month and day, or include a year.


“The Memorable Stone-Wall”: A local dispatch about the Battle of Cedar Mountain

In August of 1862, Confederate General Robert E. Lee led a campaign against Major General John Pope and the Army of Virginia. We know it now as the Northern Virginia Campaign.

A letter in our archive discusses the aftermath of the earliest engagement of the campaign, the Battle of Cedar Mountain.

Picture of Cedar Mountain, looking south from the approximate southwestern corner of The Wheatfield, by Matt Stewart, taken October 16, 2005

Picture of Cedar Mountain, looking south from the approximate southwestern corner of The Wheatfield, by Matt Stewart, taken October 16, 2005

The battle pitted Union General Nathaniel P. Banks against Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson, better known as “Stonewall.”

On August 13, Judith, writing from the small community of Louisa (between Charlottesville and Fredericksburg), tells Donnie Perkins about the impact of the recent battles on the local community.

We’ll share some excerpts here. You can read the letter in its entirety in Acumen.

Judith begins with an explanation of why she hasn’t answered a letter from late July.


I make no excuse for not having written before, for you can well immagine the reason when you consider the bustle and excitement we have been in for some time back, and now, while I am writing I am annoyed by the continual passing of army-wagons and soldiers.

The “memorable Stone-wall” had crossed the Rapidan River on “last friday,” August 8, for an attack starting the next day, with “canonading which at times was so severe as to jar the earth round us.” She seemed to think he had something like 60,000 men under him; in reality, that’s more than the entire force under Lee during the campaign.

However, Jackson did command the entire left wing of Lee’s forces. The “continual passing of army-wagons and soldiers” as she’s writing the letter might be the fallback of those troops to Gordonsville, just 10 miles NNE of Louisa.

As for the recent battle, according to Judith,


We have heard no particulars from the fight but we drove the enemy back with very little loss on our side. We took a good many prisoners among them 3 Gen’ls and some 60 or
80 commissioned officers. Billie was in the fight but came out safe though his regement the 13th Va was very badly cut up having many wounded but none killed.

She goes on to describe some local losses in that battle as well as an earlier “Richmond battle,” probably during the Seven Days Battles.


A Widow Lady living near us had 2 sons killed and a third one wounded in 3 places. She also lost one at the battle of Fort [Donelson], he was wounded and taken from the field but not returned to fight again when he rec’d a mortal wound.

She stops at this point to talk about the sacrifices that have been made to the cause – “They were very brave, but dear Donnie, the bravery of our friends is very little comfort to us, when they are cold in death.”


Oh! you can little immagine the horrors of war ’til you see, and hear the groan, of the wounded and see the distress of the bereaved friends, and even that is nothing to be comparred to the shocking sight of the battlefield. Oh! when will this unholy war end? Perhaps when all of our friends are killed. Then what will “Liberty” be to us.

She has harsh things to say about the rhetoric of sacrifice: “All this sounds very pretty, but if they could see their friends come home with their feet blistered from marching…and see them fall on the floor in utter exhaustion…I think they would lose their patriotism.”

Next, she theorizes about what’s to come in the war: “I am anxious to know what move the dear old Stone-wall will take next. His men seem to think that he is going to make a grand move into Maryland which, I hope may prove true.” Of Jackson, she reports,


His men love him dearly and would go through fire and flame[?] at his bidding. His forces were surrounded at one time up in the mountain, but his men remarked that old Jack had brought them there and that he would bring them out and so he did by marching them single file across the mountain with a yankee army within a half mile of him on each side. No doubt they thought they had him safe enough but he was too keen for them.

The previously mentioned Billie was with that force. She shares that Billie picked up some “yankee trophies,” including the very paper she’s writing on!

Judith talks about more deaths, including the son of a cousin, also in the Richmond engagement. Sharing more details from Billie, she writes,


They had to march to the fields through briers, over ditches and quagmires and were almost broken down when they wint into the fight and [?] had had scaresly any thing to eat for several days. Billie told me that one of the men that marched by him got into a quagmire and he had
to help him out. The poor fellow came home sick after the battle and soon died.

In news closer to home again, she shares that “the yankees have been very near us several times,” including while they were on their way to a supply depot in the vicinity. Her letter wraps up with some personal news about a sick family member, but the fighting is never far from her thoughts.


I have just heard that Jackson is to be reinforced by 4000 so we may expect a big battle soon.

That reinforcement would have been the right wing, under Longstreet, coming to aid Jackson’s left. Two days later, Robert E. Lee would meet them in Gordonsville to take command of the whole Army of Northern Virginia.

Two weeks later, Jackson had already destroyed the Union supply depot at Manassas Junction and was engaged in the Second Battle of Bull Run (also called Second Manassas), a major Confederate victory. By early September, though, the Army of Northern Virginia had moved on to Maryland, to the bloody Battle of Antietam (Battle of Sharpsburg), which, though inconclusive, helped turn the tide of the war back to the Union.

WWI: Month One

At the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, let’s look at some items from Acumen that reflect the events of the war’s earliest days.

July 28 — Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia, following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand; Russia mobilizes in response
August 1 — Germany declares war on Russia
August 3 — Germany declares war on France; Belgium denies Germany the right to pass through to France
August 4 — Germany invades Belgium; United Kingdom declares war on Germany

August 4 — United States declares neutrality

August 6 – Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia
August 11 – France declares war on Austria Hungary

August 12 – United Kingdom declares war on Austria-Hungary; Battle of the Frontiers begins

August 14 – France invades Lorraine, a German border territory that was long part of France

August 17 – Russia invades East Prussia in the Battle of Stalluponen, the first battle of the Eastern Front, a Central Powers victory

August 20 – Germany occupies Brussels (Belgium); Battle of Mulhouse (Alsace, Germany), a Central Powers victory
August 22 – Austria-Hungary declares war on Belgium

August 28 – First Battle of Heligoland Bight (North Sea), first naval battle of the war, Allied Powers victory


August 17 — Battle of Tannenberg (Germany), Central Powers victory

September 5 — First Battle of the Marne, Allied Powers stop advance of Germans through France

While this first month of the war saw armies on the move, soon after trench warfare set in along the Western Front, to last for most of the duration of the war.

To learn more about the American experience of WWI, take a look at our new digital exhibit, WWI: Centennial Reflections.

Cartes de visite: More than just photographs

Recently, we digitized a large collection of cartes de visite, a mid 19th century photography phenomenon that featured albumen prints mounted on heavy paper or cardstock.

Here are some examples — click on each image to see it up close, complete with the photography studio labeled on the front:

Each carte de visite (CDV) was about the size of a calling card, making it easy to carry around and exchange this new technology with others.

But these cards feature more than just photographs. The back of the card provided the photography studio with an opportunity to advertise its business. While some studios simply included a name and address, or perhaps the processes they offered or their pricing structure, some used decorative monograms or icons to draw potential customers’ attention.

Some studios, though, used more elaborate illustrations. A common one was the artist’s palette, perhaps indicating the attitude these studios took toward their craft:

This one includes both a palette and an equally common icon: the camera itself.


Here’s another that features a camera, this one in the act of taking a photograph:


You’ll see a camera in the second image below, this one being wielded by a cherub, a surprisingly common motif on our CDV backs.

More exotic figures sometimes appeared on card backs, like the lion and sphinx below:

exotic_0400071 exotic_1400088

The second card above is a good example of illustrations used as a decorative border for a largely text-based presentation. Here are some others:

Some photographers included images of their actual studio space on CDV backs, like these:

But some card back illustrations are even more complex. This one is quite elaborate but a sort of perplexing choice for advertising art:


To find more cartes de visite — to see photos of everyday folks from the 19th century and get a sense of the self-conceptions and business practices of photographers — check out the Southern Cartes de Visite Collection in Acumen.

3D Digitization Project: testing phase (continued)

Last week, we told you about a test of our Digitization Manager’s relief digitization process, under development thanks to a UA Libraries’ Innovation Grant.

The project: a process to capture relief data using (1) a regular mounted digital camera setup, (2) a piece of simple secondary hardware, (3) the ubiquitous photo editing program Adobe Photoshop, and (4) some homegrown open-source software.

For the last few months, Jeremiah’s been simultaneously working on designing the hardware (and in a way that can be replicated by others), writing the software (a Ruby script), and working out the logistics of the technique. While last week’s post focused on how the captures are made, this one will focus a bit more on how and why the technique works.

Light and Dark

You might be wondering, Why do you need an extra piece of hardware? The short answer: light. The relief capture process depends on using brightness values to determine height, and the hardware Jeremiah built helps in this aspect.



The movable mask (green) makes the mounted lights illuminate an object in just the right way, as it comes into view through the opening in the mask. The object, down below the mask, is being shot from above and illuminated at an angle:apperture-lightingWhere both lights cross and hit the object, the brightness values will be highest; where neither light hits the object, the brightness values will be lowest. Dozens of slices of the object are shot, each being illuminated in this way.

Height and Depth

When the slices are layered into a single image, called a height map, the composite brightness values can be used to create a sense of the object’s height and depth.  Here’s what the height map looks like for Mr. Hoole’s key:

hoole_key_dispOf course, this is in black and white, since it’s only using the lights and darks of the brightness channel. Color values return when a single, un-sliced shot of the object, called a texture map, is combined with the height map in Jeremiah’s software. The software transforms the data into a .x3d file so the object can be viewed in all its lovely dimensions.

The first time we processed the key, though, the dimensions weren’t so lovely:

hoole_key_no_blurLooks kind of fuzzy, no? We picked up so much detail from the surface of the key, so many light and dark tones, that it appears to have wildly variable height and depth, even from pixel to pixel.

The solution in this case was to blur the height map a bit:


Okay — so it was blurred what looks like a lot, but it was necessary to tame the height values. The texture map, however, wasn’t blurred, so the overall detail is still good:


(You might also notice the background doesn’t show up in this 3D rendering. This wasn’t because of the blur applied but because Jeremiah manually blacked out the background areas, now that he was satisfied with the way the rest turned out.)

Jeremiah’s still in the process of testing the technique and tweaking the software and hardware designs where needed. You’ll see more about this project once it’s out of the testing phase and ready for its public debut. :)

3D Digitization Project: testing phase

Our Digitization Manager, Jeremiah, has been working on a pretty exciting project, and we thought we’d share some pictures from the testing phase.

Late last year, we got a grant from UA Libraries to develop a digitizing process for relief objects, including an inexpensive apparatus used to facilitate the image capture (see these posts about making the components) and a Ruby program that creates the 3D files. The project is now in the testing phase.

For my first test run last week, we chose one of the large keys that used to be in the possession of our special collection library‘s namesake, W. S. Hoole. (Thank you, Associate Dean Mary Bess Paluzzi!) They’re not only cool shapes to work with, but they also have some nice textures:

In Jeremiah’s process, dozens of shots of an object are taken and composited together. To make those captures with our usual mounted-camera digitization setup, we’ve added a secondary apparatus, one with a mask that moves back and forth over the object, targeting portions of it for capture:

Most of what I learned this go-around was how to set up the object for digitization, orienting it to the apparatus. Here it is on a platform under the apparatus (with mask removed):

Once the object is in place, it can’t be moved. Instead, everything else moves, structuring the way light is cast onto the item:

  1. The position of the apparatus changes after each pass over the object. At minimum, we shoot the object from two different orientations, usually three. (If you look at the wide shots above up close, you’ll see circular position marks on the table.)
  2. The position of the opening — or aperture — in the green mask is moved in increments during the digitization process, so that we capture multiple different views of the object through the aperture.




Why is the mask bright green? For exactly the reason you might expect — to use a green-screen process. It’s not too different from how actors are shot in front of a green background so computer-generated effects can be added in around them. In this case, the green signals to the Ruby software which portions of the image should be cut out — namely, the parts that aren’t the slice of the object.

After all the capture is done, the images are combined into a whole. It looks like this, before we map a color shot onto it:


In a subsequent post, we’ll talk how the compositing technique works. It has a lot to do with lighting. In the meantime, this is a screenshot of the final product of the key test:


Searching Acumen – Limiting by Field

Acumen’s simple one-box search is pretty robust, searching multiple fields by default, but what if you need to pinpoint a specific field in the record? In the second in our series of posts on searching our digital repository, Acumen, we discuss searching by field — how to enter that kind of search into the box and why you’d even want to.

How do I do it?

The format for fielded searching in Acumen is actually fairly simple. Enter it in the search box like this:


Here are some examples:


You can use any of the fields shown above to do a limited search.

If you want to include more than one keyword, format your search like this:

field:(keyword AND keyword)
genre:(christmas AND cards)
date:(june AND 1863)

If you want to use more than one field in one search, format it like this:

field:keyword AND field:keyword
title:cantata AND creator:handel
subject:boxing AND description:match

Why would I do it?

Putting a single word in the box and searching isn’t a bad plan, but like with limiting by format, limiting by field can help narrow down a large set of results.

For example, the keyword legal can come up in a variety of places in a record. A simple search for that keyword yields 6417 results, but things look pretty different when you do a fielded search. You’ll see the number of results below the search box area, on the left:



In another example, the keyword time brings up 1185 results. Here’s what it looks like in different fields:



In general, using multiple keywords can get you more focused results, especially if you put AND between them. (The default is to look for one word OR the other.) Using multiple keywords in a limited search is even better, either within one field or between different fields.

football game = 679 results
football AND game = 183 results
title:(football AND game) = 104 results

This is especially true when you’re dealing with very common words and phrases.

photograph 1908 = 28798 results
photograph AND 1908 = 155 items
genre:photograph AND date:1908 = 71 results

The key to searching in a library catalogue or database is the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Specifically, try different things. One strategy is to use different words and phrases for the same concept, but you should also consider limiting your search to a particular field. In Acumen, it’s simple: just enter field:term.



Interested in digitization?

We’re looking for a new Digitization Technologist.  Are you looking for an interesting, challenging position where you’ll learn about digitization of images, text, and audio?  Where you’ll expand your developing scripting skills, learn XML (if you don’t already know it) and get up to your elbows in technical and preservation metadata?  Do you like working both on your own and as part of a close-knit team?

If this sounds like it might be right up your alley, check out the full description (under “IT Technical Specialist I – Digitization Technologist – 49792″) and submit your application before June 9 (2014).   Thanks.  We’ll be interviewing very soon!